Hashtag basics: Why they work, and why they fail

Still unclear about how or why to use the # sign in a tweet? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Those of you who use Twitter no doubt have seen and probably used a hashtag.

Hashtags are the letters that follow the # sign in a tweet and are, according to Twitter, “used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet.” Twitter users—not the inventors of the social network—created the hashtag.

But hashtags aren’t appropriate for every tweet. It’s important to know when to use one, and how to treat a hashtag.

Five reasons hashtags work:

1. Categorizing content. Hashtags enable users to categorize their tweets into a specific topic, making it easier for other users to find. This tool is great for someone posting a series of tweets discussing the same topic.

2. Interacting with personality. Hashtags can take a routine tweet and add some life to it by adding it to a list of related tweets.

3. Promoting events. Hashtags make it possible to monitor tweets during a webinar or conference, adding value to the experience. This option enables participants to ask questions and comment before, during, and after the event, and to see what others have on their minds.

4. Helping build buzz. Marketing is all about reaching your consumers and creating buzz. Hashtags allow for current and potential customers to search for tweets they are interested in viewing. Using hashtags correctly may help increase the buzz around your product or service by boosting views.

5. Encouraging brevity. Hashtags enable users to emphasize their overall point and purpose of the tweet in one or two words.

Five reasons hashtags fail:

1. Lack of consistency. Marketers who use hashtags should do just that—use them. Lack of consistency may cause some tweets to go unseen by current and potential customers who may come across your tweets only by searching for the specific hashtag they know you always use.

2. Too many words. One mistake users make when using a hashtag is thinking the point of a hashtag is to write a complete thought or an entire sentence. This is one of the most bothersome misuses of hashtags. Nothing is more aggravating than when a tweet appears on my feed with complete sentences as a hashtag, for example: #ThisIsHashtagAbuse

3. Irrelevant hashtags. Users must make sure they create a hashtag that is relevant to the specific purpose of the tweet and the hashtag itself. If the hashtag is irrelevant, it may cause confusion among the viewers, destroying the utility of the tweet.

4. Lack of promotion. Just like any other product or service, if you do not promote your hashtag, people will not know what it is, or what the purpose of the hashtag might be.

5. Carelessness. When deciding on which hashtag to use, it’s important to look into how that hashtag already is being used in the Twitterverse. Or if it is being used at all. You may think you are categorizing a tweet correctly, but do your homework; you may be surprised by the tweets that are ending up in that hashtag list.

The next time you think about composing a tweet, consider borrowing from journalism and contemplating the five Ws and H before you add a hashtag: Who, what, when, where, why and how.

Anthony Salerno is the Marketing Assistant at Behan Communications in Albany, NY. A version of this story first appeared on the Behan Communications’ blog The Buzz.


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